Make a New Year’s Resolution to Reduce Stress in Your Life

It’s the same every January: we start strong with expectations of grandeur only to find ourselves reverting back to our old couch potato (or for some of us, overscheduled) lives. In the blink of an eye, we’ve already ditched our goals and opted for the easy retreat. So, where did we go wrong? OCH of Gravette psychologist Dr. Jason Glass offers us a new way to stay on top of our lofty resolutions with practical solutions to de-stress and enjoy success in our everyday lives.

The holidays can be an extremely stressful time.  Between the in-laws, multiple Christmas parties, and buying gifts people will never actually use, most people are relieved when holiday time is over.  But for some people, the stress continues to linger even after the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season is over.  Stress is a normal part of life—but severe stress or prolonged stress can build up to create more serious health problems.  You can choose to make this New Year different by being proactive in your fight against stress.  Here are a few key tips for tackling stress:

1. Exercise: If losing weight is your main New Year’s resolution, then exercising should be at the top of your list of priorities.  Exercising is perhaps the most effective weapon against stress and depression.  Exercising for 30 minutes can help detoxify the body from hormones and chemicals created by stress over the course of the day.  You do not have to join a gym or buy a shake weight; walking or bike riding can do the trick.

2. Find the Time to Unwind: Amidst the current economic climate, many Americans are working longer and harder just to get by.  Unfortunately, people find it difficult to take a few minutes out of their busy schedule to just relax and clear their minds.  Psychotherapists teach certain relaxation skills to help patients deal with anxiety and stress such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises.  Many people use yoga, Pilates and meditation to cope with stress. Some people find listening to music to be relaxing.  Although meditation might sound “new agey” to some people, it can be as simple as finding a quiet room and focusing on a bible verse you find meaningful and uplifting. 

3. Awareness: Paying attention to what is causing your stress and how your body reacts to stress can be half the battle.  It might be traffic, loud noises or cold weather that gets you worked up.  When you feel anxiety coming on, you might feel your fists clench, heart race, or you may just get angry.  Being aware of what makes you stressed and how you react to stress can help you become proactive and intervene before you become overwhelmed. 

4. Stop Smoking/Watch your Caffeine Intake: It is sad, but many people think because cigarettes and caffeine aren’t illegal that they are not drugs.  Well, they are drugs, they are addictive, and they can take a serious toll on your health.  In a 2007 study by the British Medical Journal Lancet, it was found that of all common drugs nicotine was the second most addictive drug next to heroin.  Yes, heroin.  Many people smoke cigarettes to calm them down but nicotine is a stimulant and can actually increase heart rate, blood pressure and cause people to have the jitters.  That is just what happens after smoking one cigarette.  Years of smoking increases the risk of heart attacks, stroke, emphysema and a multitude of other problems.

Let’s not leave out caffeine.  Anything over 250 mg a day (40 to 60 mg per 12 oz soft drink) can cause anxiety, sleep problems, and irritability.  Plus, excessive caffeine use can lead to weight gain and even the development of diabetes. 

As you can see, there are substantial benefits that can be gained from quitting smoking and using caffeine in moderation.  If you are interested in quitting, a consultation with your physician might be an excellent way to get you on the right track.

5.  Time Management Skills:  Many people become overwhelmed because they take on too many things at once.  Perhaps you are a procrastinator or you are the kind of person that obsesses about getting things done now.  The best way to handle these problems is to prioritize your time from the most important to the least important—in other words, first thing is first.  To remember appointments and important events, you may use a day planner or keep a calendar to stay on top of tasks.

When to consult a physician or mental health professional:  If your stress significantly interferes with work, school, or family life or you develop certain physical symptoms (racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness) it is important to call your doctor to see if their may be more significant health problems other than just routine stress.

As with anything in life, dealing with stress takes patience.  Your stress may have built up for years and there is no easy way to magically get rid of it in one day.  Take one day at a time and may you have an excellent 2011. 

Jason Glass, PsyD is a psychologist affiliated with Ozarks Community Hospital of Gravette and the OCH of Gravette Clinic.  Dr. Glass is a provisionally licensed psychologist in the state of Arkansas and is currently under the supervision of OCH licensed psychologist Mark W. Glover, Ph.D. Some of the psychological services provided through OCH include: adult psychotherapy for anxiety and depression; anger management training; dementia evaluation and consultation; probation and parole evaluation; parental fitness evaluation; and pre-surgical psychological evaluation and consultation. 


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